SANFORD, N.C. ' Its that time of year, when every golfer in the frozen north is picking my brain for travel tips for warm weather golf. One of the big questions is where to play in the Pinehurst area. After all, Golftown, USA is almost as packed as Myrtle Beach when it comes to golf courses.
Nevertheless, just as Bandon Dunes knocked Pebble Beach off its lofty perch as Americas greatest seaside golf venue, so too has mighty Pinehurst resort seen a serious challenge to its decades long rule over golf in the North Carolina sandhills region. Tobacco Road, designed by the late, great Mike Strantz, has become a must play, if not the first play when traveling to North Carolina for a golf vacation.
Combining his profound gift for designing great strategic holes with his limitless palette for artistic flair, Strantz wove wide, yet elusive fairways and well protected greens amid heaving, expansive waste areas and hurly-burly sand mounds. The results are awe-inspiring. Part Pine Valley (and therefore World Woods (Pine Barrens, infra.) and for its vast sandy waste areas and part Prestwick for its numerous blind drives and approaches, the result is a dazzling and unique synergy flawlessly executed to produce a course rich in risk reward options on a breathtaking canvas. Many players consider Tobacco Road to be the most atmospheric and enjoyable four miles of potential triple bogeys ever designed.
The difficulty of the course is derived directly from the fact that ' unless youve been to Ireland or Scotland ' youve never seen anything like it. Nobody is better than Strantz at optical illusion and nowhere do his optical illusions invoke more trepidation, confusion or frustration in a player than at Tobacco Road. Holes look cloak-and-dagger claustrophobic from the tee. Since some tee shots are blind, players (particularly first-time visitors), are uncertain exactly where to place their shot. (Always remember ' when teeing off on a Strantz hole, go over the mound in front of you, Strantz fairways are behind the mound).
Nervous, uncertain swings lead to disastrous results and wayward tee shots stand no chance of offering players a chance to play to the greens in regulation. Golf scores can turn to bowling scores in the span of just a few holes. More than any other course in the country, Tobacco Road demands patience and restraint bordering on the robotic.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, play the right set of tees for your skill level. This is the easiest problem a player can remedy. Par is 71, not 72 so the 6300 yard tees play closer to 6600. Players who insist on playing a set of tees beyond their skill level will fail to reach the knee of doglegs, may not be able to negotiate the forced carries off the tee, and definitely will have longer clubs from much more difficult angles on approaches.
The course is located only a half hour northeast of Pinehurst, yet despite its proximity to such a renowned and revered golf destination, Tobacco Road has built a devout following among golf connoisseurs as one of the most creative, exciting and enjoyable tracks in the country. How can it compete under such seemingly long odds? Easy - affordability and ingenious design. It is also a quintessential match play course as fortunes of the round change from shot to shot, exactly what any truly great course evokes - and the road features such options and potential swings on each and every hole. With every hole not only not memorable, but indelible in its artistry and world-class in its shot values, Tobacco Road, along with Bandon Dunes (infra.) and Black Mesa (infra.) (which Tobacco Road inspired), is the most important course to open in this country since Sawgrass and is one of the richest golf experiences in the entire World.
Tobacco Road is easily one of the most intimidating courses youll ever set eyes on, but playability-wise it is actually quite easy. The look paralyzes your brain on overload ' hence your swing tightens. But once you play it a few times youll get your comfort zone. That is what the great courses are all about, they make you think. And when you pull off that impossible shot, youll remember it forever. Thats what Mike wants. Where else can you get a thrill like that? - Forrest Fezler, Mike Strantz design partner and former tour pro.
Take a video tour of Tobacco Road
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 260 nationally ranked public golf courses in 39 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer, Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan.